This is one of those problems which would be easily solved if I had access to your computer but is difficult to decide which approach to suggest be taken. I have not had much luck with using Tom's Rtbt for installing distributions; the kernel is usually too outdated for the target distro's installer programs to run on (you can, of course, give it a try).
I wondered about that. It looked like the kernel was a bit long in the tooth, as they say.
Personally, if you are going to go the boot floppy method -- and Vector's floppies can't be used -- I would recommend using the install floppies Tukaani. Tukaani is no longer maintaining a distro, but since their installer was designed to work with Slackware, you may have better success with the console provided with their floppies (just use ALT-F2 to activate a console after booting).
If we get to that point, I'll give that a try. Thanks for the heads up on that.
Before going through the steps necessary to bootstrap your system, I should like to ask a couple of more questions.
What is the output of 'fdisk -l'?
Here it is. I hope it helps.
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/hda1 * 1 389 3124611 83 Linux
/dev/hda2 390 1222 6691072+ 5 Extended
/dev/hda5 390 1188 6417936 83 Linux
/dev/hda6 1188 1222 273073+ 82 Linux swap
How much RAM does the system have?
It is maxxed out at 256meg.
Does the system have Internet access? Is it wireless or Ethernet?
Right now it does. In fact, I'm typing this response from that machine. The access is wireless using a Linksys card with the Realtek driver (WPC11, can't remember which version of the card it is) and ndiswrapper. I don't think this machine has an Ethernet adapter in it. At least there is no actual jack.
Is the system on a home network?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. There is a network of sorts set up for internet access purposes, but I've never gotten around to setting things up so the different machines can access each other. (My wife has a Vista notebook and an XP notebook that I hope to inherit, and we have a Windows and a Linux desktop and this old notebook.) I know others have done so with no trouble, but it seemed a bit complicated, especially since I also wanted to make the printer connected to my Linux desktop accessible to the Windows machines as well.
Out of curiosity, is the CD-ROM external? If so, is it using a parallel port? USB?
Unfortunately, the CD-ROM is internal. A replacement did not work, and I don't know whether controller cables for those drives are interchangeable (my wife has a Dell whose drive and cable I would try in that case), so I have no idea what else to try in that regard.
Thanks for your patience.
It seems I should be thanking you for your patience. I appreciate the help.